A volunteer's letter to the 2017 race Spartathletes

A volunteer's letter to the 2017 race Spartathletes

Spartathletes,

I am taking the opportunity to write this as I won’t be able to be alongside your journey this year. After 13 years of education, it is now time to proceed to university. I’m both nervous and excited, but simultaneously gutted as my course starts before the Spartathlon.

 This race is so important and valuable in a multitude of dimensions. A race which only a few are brave enough to attempt, and even less are able to conquer. However, this is whats so magical and captivating; the feelings, thoughts, emotions, visions, support, compassion, pain, surprise and doubt one experiences throughout the course. For most athletes participating, the Spartathlon is the highlight of their year, what they’ve been working for relentlessly. I must admit that it has always been the highlight of my year. I started volunteering when I was 14, at the mountain base, checkpoint 47. I was the young girl thrilled to be providing the runners with their gear, helping them sort everything out quickly and efficiently in order for them to face the dreaded mountain.

I’ll never forget what I saw that day, the athletes I met and above all the emotions I felt. It is hard to put into words. I felt so proud of each runner, as if I’d known them and supported their mission throughout. The unforgettable feeling when you’re actually of great help to a runner during their unique journey. Such an experience allowed me to develop a passion, which grew stronger and stronger each year. The power of the human body, the work load on each muscle, that including the brain, the attitude and aptitude of these athletes. Multiple elements play a fundamental role in ultra marathons, and it sparked the idea of studying sport and exercise science.

Years later, after having witnessed a lot and seen old and new athletes conquer what to my eyes is mesmerising, I am ready to leave Greece to start my studies in this field. September marks the start of most academic courses, but for me September was always linked to the Spartathlon. Despite the joy and satisfaction it gives me to help athletes which I truly admire, it was my motivating force for the year ahead. This race and the people involved motivate me to become a better person with stronger ambitions, to believe in my efforts, not to second doubt, and above all work humbly towards something you may not have thought you were capable of. As Szilvia Lubics said, we must each find our own Spartathlon, a goal for which you can work everyday. This reminded me of Cavafy’s poem Ithaca. In the effort to reach that goal, we must live life, enjoy the journey, and not just simply exist.

To each runner who has participated in the Spartathlon, thank you. Thank you for showing us what humans are capable of, what the body can undergo, the power of the mind to overcome every obstacle, and most importantly your dedication which in turn leads you to taking a step into these 246km. Even more so being Greek, the significance of the race is very important. Witnessing athletes from across the world follow the path go Phidippides gives me a feeling of pride and satisfaction, as they keep our history alive. I wish you the best of luck for this year. Wishing you patience to endure what is ahead of you, peace of mind to think clearly and above all health, alongside mental and physical strength. As Yiannis Kouros said, “Like a tree that grows stronger with more branches and roots, you need to find more and more ways to be inspired.” So, may you blossom during your run and have the strength to motivate yourself whether that’s to run faster, reach the next checkpoint, or in the end climb the last steps to King Leonidas feet.

Take care and hope to be by your side soon,

Elena

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Described as the world's most grueling race, the Spartathlon runs over rough tracks and muddy paths (often it rains during the race), crosses vineyards and olive groves, climbs steep hillsides and, most challenging of all, takes the runners on the 1,200 meter ascent and descent of Mount Parthenio in the dead of night.
This is the mountain, covered with rocks and bushes, on which it is said Pheidippides met the god Pan.

Spartathlon is the event that brings this deed to attention today by drawing a legend out of the depths of history. The idea for its creation is belongs to John Foden, a British RAF Wing Commander. As a lover of Greece and student of ancient Greek history, Foden stopped his reading of Herodotus' narration regarding Pheidippides, puzzled and wondering if a modern man could cover the distance from Athens to Sparta, i.e. 250 kms, within 36 hours.

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